Catholics, Protestants, Church of England, the Kirk, Presbyterians, Puritans, Divine Right of Kings and Parliament

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 1st, 2014

Politics 101

(Originally published January 26th, 2012)

English Catholics and Protestants were Fiercely Religious and willing to Kill or be Killed for their Faith

To understand the founding political structure of the United States you need to understand 17th century Britain.  The run up to the 17th century.  And the Protestant Reformation.  When Christianity split into Protestants and Catholics.  And their beliefs and practices.

Catholics are born with original sin.  Protestants aren’t.  All Catholics have a chance to go to Heaven.  God sorts out the Protestant’s going to Heaven before birth.  Doing good deeds can help Catholics make it to Heaven.  They won’t make any difference for Protestants.  Catholics burn away their sins in Purgatory.  Then comes Judgment Day.  Clean souls go to Heaven.  Unclean souls go to Hell.  Protestants go straight to Heaven or Hell when they die with no layover in Purgatory or judgment.  Catholics believe priests have special powers and the Pope is infallible.  Protestants don’t.  Catholics have saints, altar rails, candles, pictures, statues and stained glass windows.  Protestants don’t.  Catholics believe priests change the wine and bread at Communion into the actual body and blood of Christ.  Protestants think they just represent the body and blood of Christ.

These are some significant differences.  Especially in a time when everyone was fiercely religious.  And did everything in this life to prepare for the afterlife.  Even buy an indulgence from the Catholic Church to buy their way through Purgatory and into Heaven.  One of the pet peeves of Martin Luther that he included in his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517 Germany (which was then a collection of German princedoms).  This was serious stuff for the laypeople.  Who were willing to kill or be killed for their faith.  Which they did a lot of in Britain.

When Queen Elizabeth died King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England

King Henry the VIII hated Martin Luther.  Was a staunch defender of the faith.  But he wanted a divorce.  So he could marry a woman who would give him a son instead of more daughters.  But he needed the Pope to grant him this.  And the Pope refused.  Henry VIII also wanted to get the Catholic Church out of his affairs.  So he created an English church.  The Church of England.  With him as the guy in charge.  At first his church was going to be protestant.  Fully anti-Pope.  But he had Parliament pass the Act of Six Articles that made his Protestant Church very Catholic.  After Henry VIII died succeeding rulers pulled the Church back and forth between Protestantism and Catholicism.

Edward VI pulled it back to Protestantism.  Then that bread and wine issue came up again.  So they wrote a new prayer book that was deliberately vague.  Which caused the Catholics to riot.  When he died his sister, Queen Mary, took the throne.  An ardent Catholic.  Out went that new prayer book.  In came Catholicism.  And she arrested and burned Protestants at the stake.  Then she died.  And in came Queen Elizabeth.  A Protestant.  So the Church of England became Protestant again.  With a little Catholicism mixed in.  But it wasn’t Catholic enough.  So the Pope excommunicated her in 1570.  Angry, she oppressed the Catholics.  Yet the Protestants weren’t happy, either.  That little bit of Catholicism was just way too much for their liking.  Especially those hardcore Calvinist Protestants (the people we call Puritans even though at the time it was more a derogatory term).  Who Elizabeth then arrested and executed.

There was a Protestant uprising in Scotland and they, too, broke from the Catholic Church.  Without consulting their very important friend and ally.  Catholic France.  Which was home for an exiled Mary Queen of Scots.  A Catholic.  But she didn’t have the power to fight against the Protestants.  So she joined the fight against the Catholics.  But she had some Catholic baggage the Scottish couldn’t forgive and they forced her to abdicate anyway.  Her son, James VI, became king.  The Church of Scotland was Presbyterian (Calvinist Protestantism).  But Scotland had a lot of Catholics as well.  The Scottish Parliament made James the head of the Scottish Church.  The Kirk.  Which was a problem for the Presbyterians.  Because they said a king couldn’t be the head of their church.  When Elizabeth died James became King James I of England.  Changed the spelling of his name from ‘Stewart’ to ‘Stuart’.  And became the head of the Church of England.  Who the Presbyterians said was way too Catholic.

King James I believed in the Divine Right of Kings and Hated Parliament

When Mary Queen of Scots abdicated James VI was only a baby and raised by a Presbyterian handler.  His Regent.  Who ruled for James until he came of age.  Who must have been strict for James did not like the Scottish Presbyterians.  Who were very similar to English Puritans.  Elizabeth had oppressed Catholics and Puritans.  Who were now both looking for a little relief from King James I.  James met with some Puritans and Catholic bishops.  The bishops resented having to meet with Puritans.  And the Puritans wanted to do away with the bishops.  But James preferred Catholics over Puritans.  So he persecuted the Puritans.  Some of who embarked on a ship called the Mayflower and sailed to religious freedom in America.  Where they would allow anyone to practice any religion they chose.  As long as they chose Puritanism.

Now even though James preferred the Catholics there were a lot of Protestants in England.  And a strong anti-Catholic sentiment.  After all England’s two great enemies, Spain and France, were Catholic.  So he continued some Catholic oppression.  One Catholic took great offense to this and decided to do something about it.  Blow up Parliament.  And the king.  Robert Catesby planned the Gunpowder Plot.  But someone warned the government.  And they caught Guy Fawkes in the cellar surrounded by gun powder just before he could light the fuse.  They sentenced Fawkes and the other conspirators to death.

James was not a fan of Parliament, either.  It was different in Scotland.  There they did pretty much what he wanted.  But the English Parliament didn’t.  And this really bugged him.  For he believed in the Divine Right of Kings.  Parliament didn’t.  And they told him so.  Also, Parliament controlled the purse strings.  If he wanted money, and he did, he would have to work with Parliament.  Or find another means to pay for what he wanted.  He chose to find another means.  He forced people to loan him money.  And even sold a new hereditary title.  The baronet.  But it was never enough.  When he died the kingdom wasn’t as rich as Elizabeth left it for him.  Worse, he left a political mess for his successor.  King Charles I.  Who became the first king whose subjects put on trial.  And executed.  Following the English Civil War.  Which he, of course, lost.

The Radical New Ideas Sown in the 17th Century would have a Profound Impact on the American Founding Fathers

King Charles I ruled in 17th century Britain.  A momentous time of change.  In Britain.  The Old World.  And the New World.  A king would be tried for the first time by the people.  Religious scores would be settled far and wide.  Attempted, at least.  And new states would rise in the New World where they would live under the religion they chose.  Governed by representatives of the people.  Who governed at the consent of the people.  Radical new ideas.  That were sown in 17th century Britain.  And would have a profound impact on the American Founding Fathers.

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The Pilgrims and Thanksgiving

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 3rd, 2013

History 101

Queen Elizabeth hated the Puritans more than the Catholics

The Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock were God-fearing people.  Who had left England to escape religious persecution.  The Pilgrims were members of the new Protestant faith.  Less than a century old at that time.  With Henry VIII, King of England, turning Catholic England Protestant in the 1530s.  Which didn’t go over well with England’s Catholics.  Becoming a thorn in Henry’s daughter’s side.  Queen Elizabeth.  (The first Queen Elizabeth.  Not the current one.)  Who she persecuted.  But they weren’t the only people she persecuted.

The Church of England swung between Catholicism and Protestantism through the years.  Trying to please both Catholic and Protestant.  In time becoming neither Catholic nor Protestant but something in between.  Pleasing neither Catholic nor Protestant.  Queen Elizabeth, the head of the Church of England, settled the matter.  By persecuting those dissatisfied with the Church of England.  The Catholics who said it was too Protestant.  And the Protestant ‘extremists’ who said the Protest Church of England was too Catholic.

It was these Protestant ‘extremists’ that really irked Elizabeth.  No, the Church of England wasn’t good enough for them.  Because it didn’t strip every last vestige of Catholicism from it.  It was impure.  Corrupted with Catholicism.  Vestments.  Icons.  Altars.  It was just downright obscene.  That’s why she turned on these ‘Puritans’ with a vengeance.  And persecuted them like Catholics.  Even worse at times.

The Pilgrims suffered Three Years of Poor Harvests and Famines because of Socialism

Things didn’t get any better under James I.  Who followed Elizabeth’s lead.  With the political climate turning against the ‘Puritans’ they skedaddled.  Leaving England.  And resettled in Leiden, Holland.  Where they had the freedom to worship as they pleased.  But the different language and culture became a problem for the congregation.  Their children were becoming less like their parents and more like the Dutch.  Who enjoyed the pleasures in life a little more freely than they thought proper for a ‘Puritan’.  If their children became Dutch it would ultimately mean the end of the congregation.  So they boarded a ship.  No, not that one.  They took the Speedwell to England.  Then boarded THAT ship.  The Mayflower.  Crossed the Atlantic Ocean.  And landed at Plymouth Rock.

Now the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock were God-fearing people.  But they had a little in common with the hippies of the Sixties.  Not the sex and drugs.  But how they lived.  For the Pilgrims lived like the hippies wanted to live.  As communists.  The Pilgrims worked but didn’t own anything.  Everything they produced belonged to everyone.  Produced by those according to ability.  And taken by those according to need.  The perfect communist society.  And truly authentic to the yet unknown communist philosophy.  Right down to the recurring famines.

The harvest of 1620 was poor.  Making the first winter hard.  And there was famine.  It was so bad that half of them died.  The Indians then taught them how to grow corn.  Things were looking up.  They celebrated the first Thanksgiving.  But the harvest of 1621 was just as bad as the harvest of 1620.  And they suffered another famine.  Another poor harvest followed in 1622.  And another famine.  Why?  Because people were lazy.  The most able-bodied of them did not want to work according to their ability.  Just so the lazy could enjoy the fruit of their labors.  And draw from the common stores according to their need.  Without contributing anything to the common stores.  Because they had better things to do than work.  Besides, it was easier just to steal what others grew than working hard in the fields.

All of the Things that made America Great were born in Plymouth Colony

Jamestown was suffering the same fate.  The socialist utopia of living in a commune just didn’t work.  The most able-bodied men refused to work according to their ability to support other men’s wives and children.  For they had their own wives and children to support.  So those with ability did the minimum.  Because doing any more didn’t help them in any way.  Or their families.  It was like asking people to work an extra two hours at work for free.  So others with large families to support could work two hours less and go home early.  So one group of workers work 10 hours for 8 hours of wages.  While another group work for 6 hours for 8 hours of wages.  Which is socialism.  Redistribution.  From those according to ability to those according to need.  It was this economic philosophy many settlements used.  Giving them poor harvests.  And famines.

But that all changed in 1623 for the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony.  William Bradford, governor of the colony, changed the economic system.  He abolished socialism.  And replaced it with free market capitalism.  He parceled out the common land.  Giving each household a parcel of land.  Saying it was their property.  It belonged to them.  As did anything they grew on it.  Which meant the more they grew the more they could eat.  Or trade for other things they needed.  Which unleashed the energies in the able-bodied.  And they worked their behinds off.  Growing as much as they possibly could.  Soon the harvests everywhere they implemented free market capitalism were bountiful.  Even in Jamestown.  And there was no famine in Plymouth Colony following the 1623 harvest.  Things were different.  And never would be the same again.

Finally the Pilgrims had a reason to be thankful.  Free markets.  The best medicine there is for famine.  Thanks to free market capitalism the colonies prospered.  And a new nation arose.  This economic liberty would go on to make the United States the greatest nation in the world.  Religious freedom.  Private property.  Limited government.  All of those things that made America great were born there in Plymouth Colony.  Thanks to William Bradford.  Who saw the futility of socialism.  And abolished it.  Things were difficult in the beginning.  But their decision to leave England ultimately provided the better life they were seeking.  And as it turned out they got out when the getting was good.  For the religious climate didn’t improve in England.  As the conflict between Catholics and Protestants would lead to civil war in 1642.  And it wasn’t pleasant.  Missing the horror of that gave the Pilgrims another thing to be thankful for.

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Catholics, Protestants and the Gunpowder Plot

Posted by PITHOCRATES - November 5th, 2013

History 101

The East-West Schism of 1054 gave us the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church

Constantine the Great won the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (312 AD) thanks to divine intervention.  Or so the story goes.  The Christian God communicated to Constantine and his soldiers in a vision on the eve of battle.  If they put the first two letters of Christ’s name in Greek on their shields they would be victorious in battle.  So they did.  And they were.  Thus beginning Constantine’s transformation from paganism to Christianity.

Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire.  And persecuting Christians was a national pastime.  But Constantine changed all that.  By first decreeing religious tolerance with the Edict of Milan (313).  And following that up with the First Council of Nicaea (325).  Where Christian bishops met to resolve some of their differences.  And try for the first time to reach a consensus for the Christian church.

In time Christianity would spread throughout the empire.  Through northern Europe.  And all the way to Britannia (Roman Britain).  But things were a little different going east.  Where the eastern Christians did not see things the same way the western Christians did.  Leading to the East-West Schism (1054).  Giving us the Roman Catholic Church in the west.  And the Eastern Orthodox Church in, of course, the east.

King Henry VIII was no fan of Martin Luther and he defended the Catholic Faith

The schism between east and west would prove to be a costly one.  The Fourth Crusade (1202-1204) went to free the Holy Land from Islam.  The European Crusaders were from the Latin Catholic Church.  Who never made it to the Holy Land.  But they did sack Constantinople.  Where the Latin Crusaders slaughtered Orthodox Christians.  Weakening the Eastern Roman Empire.  Opening the door for Ottoman conquest (1453).  And making the way clear for Islam to spread into Europe.  So instead of freeing the Holy Land from Islam they brought Islam into Christian Europe.  But that wouldn’t be the last Christian-on-Christian fighting.

In 1517 Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses attacking the Roman Catholic Church.  In particular its selling of indulgences to buy your way into heaven.  A funding scheme by Pope Leo X to pay for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  Thus kicking off the Protestant Reformation.  A schism in Western Christianity.  Splitting up Christianity in Europe between the Catholics and Protestants.  Leading to centuries of warfare.  Especially between Catholic Spain & France and Protestant England & Germany.

In England King Henry VIII was no fan of Martin Luther.  And he defended the Catholic faith.  But he had a problem with the Pope.  For he wanted a divorce from his queen.  Katherine of Aragon.  So he would be free to marry Ann Boleyn.  Well, the Pope said ‘no’.  So Henry said goodbye to the Roman Catholic Church.  And set up the Church of England.  With Henry himself as the head of the church.  Soon England was full of Catholics and Protestants.  And they fought each other to maintain the true faith.  Bitterly.  And cruelly.  The Church of England would swing between Catholicism and Protestantism through these turbulent times.  From Henry VIII to Edward VI to Queen Mary to Elizabeth to James I.

James continued Elizabeth’s Persecution of Catholics which led to the Gunpowder Plot

James I was King James VI of Scotland.  On the death of Elizabeth he moved south and took the English throne.  Becoming James I of England.  Scotland was Presbyterian (which fell in the Protestant camp).  The Presbyterians did not like the Church of England for they felt it was virtually Catholic.  Something the Catholics would disagree with.  The Puritans (basically Protestants) also criticized the Church of England for being too Catholic.  Which annoyed Elizabeth.  So she persecuted both Puritans and Catholics.  James was raised a Presbyterian but he hated Presbyterians.  And Puritans.  Who he thought were nothing more than Presbyterians who spoke more eloquently.

So the Puritans were a thorn in James’ side.  This animosity between the Puritans and James would lead to the Puritans leaving England and eventually landing in the New World.  James hated Puritans so much that he preferred Catholics over them.  However, Elizabeth had taken England into a very anti-Catholic direction.  And he did not want to appear to be soft when it came to Catholics.  So he made life unpleasant for them.  Even banished Catholic priests.  Sick of this persecution of Catholics someone did something about it.

Remember, remember, the 5th of November
The gunpowder treason and plot
I know of no reason why the gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot

Robert Catesby planned the Gunpowder Plot.  To rid England of anti-Catholic rule.  The plan was to blow up Parliament by filling a cellar beneath the House of Lords with barrels of gunpowder.  But someone tipped off Lord Monteagle.  Authorities arrived in the cellar to find Guy Fawkes surrounded by barrels of gunpowder, a fuse in one hand and a match in the other.  Leading to a new holiday in Britain.  Guy Fawkes Day.  Where people burned effigies of the Pope.  To celebrate the Protestant victory over the ‘Catholic’ plot that tried to topple the government on the 5th of November in 1605.  And providing even more animosity between Protestants and Catholics in England.  Which would later erupt in the English Civil War (1642–1651).  But today Guy Fawkes Day is just about fireworks and celebrations.  Without the religious overtones it once had.

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Declaration of Independence, George Mason, John Adams, State Constitutions, Constitutional Convention, Thomas Jefferson and Virginia Statue of Religious Freedom

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 15th, 2012

Politics 101

The Declaration of Independence declared that Government should be By the People, Of the People and For the People 

Tearing down the old order is one thing.  Building a new one is something completely different.  For there’s been a lot of tearing down throughout history.  And rarely does peace and prosperity spontaneously follow.    Which is something that no doubt weighed heavily on the minds of those who voted on July 2, 1776, to declare formerly their independence from Great Britain.  What, exactly, were they to do next?  The most powerful navy and army in the world no longer protected them.  Instead, they were now the enemy of the most powerful navy and army in the world.  Which meant they couldn’t protect themselves.  Their international trade on the high seas.  Or even protect their own people from each other.  For if the British constitutional protections no longer applied to them, what did?  Anything?  Or would anarchy rule?

The Americans declared independence because they were not getting equal treatment under British law.  Much of which they liked.  The execution of it is what they had a problem with.  That and the built-in privileges for some.  And, of course, the established state religion.  Which made many of them come to the colonies to escape in the first place.  So there was a lot in British law they could use.  And some that could do with a little tweaking.  Which is something they could do now that they were starting from scratch.

They had just renounced the royal authority in their states.  Which left these states without a formal framework of law.  And the opportunity to make new law.  Based on the principles in the Declaration of Independence.  That government should be by the people, of the people and for the people.  So when the Continental Congress adjourned after committing their high treason (declaring their independence) the delegates went home.  Back to their states.  To begin the building process of the new order.

The Vehicle for Peaceful Change of Government was and is the Constitutional Convention

Virginia was first.  George Mason drafted their new constitution.  And included a Bill of Rights.  George Mason was a leading mind of the day.  And produced a document that served as a template for other states.  As well as other countries.  It did away with privilege.  And the state established Anglican religion.  Among other reforms.  In Massachusetts the process was a little different.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence.  He voted for independence.  And supported the violent revolution that followed.  For he believed when a government harms the people that these people have a right and a duty to abolish that government.  But that didn’t mean a violent revolution whenever the people disagreed with government policy.  Because that would lead to anarchy.  And this was an issue that weighed heavily on the brilliant mind of John Adams.  Who created the procedure of overthrowing a government without suffering through a period of anarchy.  The vehicle for this peaceful change of government was the constitutional convention.  Which provided the framework for the states to develop their constitutions. 

The Massachusetts House appointed a committee to draft their constitution.  When they finished their draft they submitted it to a constitutional convention made up of elected state delegates.  Who approved it and sent it to the towns for approval.  They rejected it.  For it lacked a bill of rights.  Among other required features.  So they started the process again.  They called another constitution convention.  This one included John Adams.  Who had just returned from France.  He took an active part of the deliberations.  And the drafting of the second constitution.  They then submitted this constitution to the towns for approval.  The towns approved it.  And the state of Massachusetts had a new government.  New Hampshire followed this process.  As did the other states.  But it just wasn’t in the American states.  Nations throughout the world have adopted this process ever since.

The Founding Fathers gave their People Great Power and hoped their Religious Institutions would help them act with Great responsibility

Most colonies disestablished the Anglican Church.  Including the taxes that supported it.  And the oaths of Anglican faith required for public office.  But that didn’t mean the states wouldn’t establish their own religions.  Or force the support of it through taxation.  Which is what Massachusetts did.  Either for the preferred Congregational Church.  Or any other Christian religion.  As long as everyone attended church.  For as the Massachusetts Bill of Rights states, “the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality…”

Of course the Quakers and Baptists in Massachusetts objected to paying taxes for what they saw as a violation of conscience.  In Virginia the Anglican Church of England was still supported by the state.  Supported by taxation.  And the state penalized dissenters.  Particularly the Baptists (something James Madison remembered well when later working for the passage of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution).  In direct violation of their own Virginian Bill of Rights.  The Virginian Assembly would subsequently pass an act exempting all dissenters from taxation and abuse.  Thomas Jefferson would take this a step farther with his Virginia Statue of Religious Freedom in 1786.  A piece of legislation that he was particularly proud of.  Even included it on his gravestone.

With great power comes great responsibility.  The Founding Fathers gave their people great power.  Representative government.  And a means to overthrow that government.  The constitutional convention.  That they hoped their religious institutions would protect.  And help their people act with great responsibility.

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The Queen defends the Church of England from Secular Attacks

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 18th, 2012

Week in Review

The U.S. Constitution prevented the new federal government from interfering with a state’s religious policy.  It did not create a wall between church and state.  It created a wall between the federal government and the states.  And on the states’ side of that wall they could do anything they wanted religiously.  Establish a state religion.  Or keep the established religion they had.  If the Catholics wanted to gather in Maryland and establish a Catholic state church they had that right.  And if there were Calvinists looking for a state to live in they could choose to settle in Calvinist Massachusetts.  With John Adams and his family.  If Quakers arrived in the New World they could move on to Pennsylvania where the Quakers were settling.  The Baptists could head to Virginia.

America was settled by religious people escaping religious persecution in Great Britain.  Which was Protestant.  And anti-Catholic.  They also didn’t care too much for the Protestant Calvinists.  Who they derisively called Puritans.  Yes, those Puritans who sailed on the Mayflower.  The people John Adams called neighbor.  Only a century earlier civil war tore England apart.  Resulting from a long and contentious history.  Pitting Catholics against Protestants.  Which the Protestants won.  But it left bitter resentment throughout the country.  Which is why a lot of people left the country.  For a new start.  And the freedom to worship in peace.  Free from harassment.

So both the UK and the USA have deep roots in Christianity.  And despite all of the blood spilled in the name of religion, that same religion helped to make the UK and the USA the great nations they became.  Based on Judeo-Christian values.  Where the governments and the people were deeply religious.  And even the non-practicing Christians and borderline atheists were steeped in these Judeo-Christian values.  Benjamin Franklin.  George Washington.  And Thomas Jefferson.  Who may have been an atheist but thought Jesus Christ was the greatest philosopher of all time.  Even made his own New Testament by cutting out the God parts.  It was these Judeo-Christian values that made great men.  It’s what made the Founding Fathers different from other men.  And how they were able to create a country that favored the people.  Not the ruling class.  Which they would most certainly have been part of.  But these were selfless men.  They did not do things for personal gain.  Something unheard of in those days when it came to governing a nation.  But they did.  Because of their religion.  And their British customs and traditions.  So it’s sad to see these attacks on Christianity in the USA.  Even more sad to see them in the UK (see Queen stands up for Christianity: ‘Church of England is misunderstood and under-appreciated’ by Rebecca English posted 2/16/2012 on the Daily Mail).

And she emphasised that while the Church, of which she is head, was ‘woven into the fabric of this country’ it also had a ‘duty’ to protect freedom of worship for other faiths in order to build ‘a better society’…

It is particularly timely given last week’s landmark legal ruling banning the saying of prayers at council meetings.

Christians and politicians reacted with dismay after a judge overturned centuries of custom by stopping a council in Devon putting prayers on the formal agenda.

On the same day, two Christian guesthouse owners failed in an attempt to overturn a £3,600 fine imposed for refusing – because it was against their religious beliefs – to allow a gay couple to occupy a double room.

These and other developments, including recent cases of public sector workers being banned from displaying Christian symbols at work, have sparked a debate over whether the country is becoming too secularised and what effect this will have on society…

‘Faith plays a key role in the identity of millions of people, providing not only a system of belief but also a sense of belonging. It can act as a spur for social action. Indeed, religious groups have a proud track record of helping those in the greatest need.’

The Church of England is such a big part of the history of the United Kingdom.  It was critical during the Enlightenment.  For it questioned Catholic dogma.  And a Pope that was only recently selling indulgences to finance some nice Renaissance art.  So there’s no question that politics was creeping into the Catholic Church.  Which is what Henry VIII did not want.  A distant central power interfering with state affairs.  Well, that, and a divorce.  So Henry VIII created his own church.  Lost some of the Catholic dogma.  Some of the politics.  But kept the Judeo-Christian values.  And Britain became great.

Agricultural advances, representative government, economic theory, technological advances – these all flourished in England.  Why?  Critical thinking.  The rule of law.  And Judeo-Christian values.  The customs and traditions that are woven into the fabric of the United Kingdom.  And they should all remain woven in the fabric.  Because customs and traditions define who a people are.  And it’s absurd to think that you can remove customs and traditions just because they are Judeo-Christian.  When we are bending over backwards to accommodate every custom and tradition that isn’t Judeo-Christian in our multicultural world.

So I say to the Queen and Defender of the Faith you go, girl.

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Charles I, Duke of Buckingham, Earl of Strafford, Ulster, William Laud, Grand Remonstrance, English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell & Charles II

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 2nd, 2012

Politics 101

Like Father Like Son, Charles I Dissolves Parliament after not Getting the Money he wanted for his Misadventures

At the start of the 17th century England was a lot like other monarchies in Europe.  Powerful.  And used to getting their way.  Sure, sometimes they had to give a little to Parliament.  That body of the people.  But that was more of an irritant than a force to be reckoned with.  By the end of the century that irritant would become the most powerful restraint on a monarch’s power the word had ever seen.

When the Scottish King James VI became King James I of England the Scottish king changed his Scottish name from ‘Stewart’ to the English ‘Stuart’.  Being the king of Scotland was all well and nice but the money and the power was in England.  And for the first time an English king ruled over Scotland (being Scottish to begin with, of course, helped).  And Wales.  And Ireland.  These were heady times to be king.  But, alas, his subjects didn’t much care for him.  Especially that body of the people.  Parliament.  Which refused to fund his errant ways.  Which took all the fun out of being king. 

Eventually James I did what all kings do.  Died.  And the crown went to Charles I.  Who annoyed his subjects even more than his dad did.  Because, like Dad, he believed in the Divine Right of Kings.  And he dissolved Parliament, too.  Just like Dad.  After Parliament was complaining about his spending habits.  And all those military misadventures.  Headed by a guy Parliament hated.  George Villiers.  The Duke of Buckingham.  Who tried to liberate Protestant Netherlands from Catholic Spain.  And failed.  Who tried to capture the Spanish treasure fleet ala Sir Francis Drake.  And failed.  Who tried to liberate Huguenot (Protestant) France.  And failed.  Buckingham was so hated that someone eventually assassinated him.

The Scottish Commit Treason to Save the Kirk from Catholicism, Charles calls Parliament to Raise an Army

Charles and the Duke were burning through a lot of Parliament’s money.  And had nothing to show for it.  In the process the king was walking all over English Common Law.  Worse, he was meddling with the Church of England.  Making the Protestant church look more and more Catholic.  It was all too much.  To borrow a lyric from the late George Harrison.  So Parliament hit the king where it hurt.  Sir John Eliot led Parliament in restricting customs duties to pay for Charles’ errant ways.  Infuriated, Charles sent his messenger, Black Rod, to dissolve Parliament.  He did.  But not before they passed Three Resolutions.  Calling Charles’ actions treason.  A bit strong for some in Parliament.  Including one ‘Black Tom’ Wentworth.  Who switched sides.  Charles made him the Earl of Strafford.  His muscle.  And sent him to Ireland.

The English may have conquered Ireland but Ireland never fully accepted being conquered.  There were many uprisings against English rule.  The problem was that Ireland was Catholic.  So not only were the English subjugating them they were attacking their religion.  Elizabeth I tried to solve this.  By having Protestant Scots settle in Ireland.  In Ulster.  In Northern Ireland.  James I followed suit.  And then annexed this land.  So there wasn’t a whole lotta love between the Irish and the English.  To borrow a lyric from Robert Plant.  And the Earl of Strafford did nothing to improve that.  He went there for money.  And got it.  More taxes.  And protection money.  Which made the Irish hate the English even more.  As if that was even possible.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, there was more trouble.  The guy making the English Church Catholic, William Laud, was doing the same thing to the Kirk.  The Scottish church.  Which was Presbyterian.  Very Protestant.  And very un-Catholic.  The Presbyterians were already not happy that their Parliament made Charles’ dad head of their church.  For kings weren’t supposed to head Presbyterian churches.  And now this.  This foul wind of Catholicism.  Well, they didn’t just sit there and take it.  They drew up a National Covenant telling Charles to stop.  Or else.  This was, of course, treason.  You just didn’t tell kings what to do.  Especially if said king believed in the Divine Right of Kings.  So Charles wanted to thump them good.  These Covenanters.  But Charles had a bit of a problem.  To raise an army for a good thumping you needed money.  Which wasn’t easy to come by when you’ve dissolved Parliament.  But he sent up a small army anyway in what we call the first Bishops’ War.  Too small to do anything they turned around and went home without fighting a battle.  Charles called for his Muscle.  Strafford.  Who told him to call Parliament.  He did.  A decade or so had passed since he dissolved the previous one.  So there shouldn’t be any harsh feelings, right?

Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army ultimately defeated Charles I in the English Civil War 

But there were.  John Pym was the new head of the royal opposition.  And the people weren’t happy.  In England, Scotland or Ireland.  They hated Laud.  Strafford.  Paying ship money (taxes raised from coastal cities to build navies to protect coastal towns which somehow ended up helping Catholics fight Protestants in the Netherlands).  And they especially hated the court set up to encourage those reluctant to pay forced loans and extralegal taxes loan their money and pay their taxes.  So Charles was not greeted warmly.  Didn’t get the money he wanted.  So he dissolved Parliament after three weeks of this nonsense (thereafter known as the Short Parliament) and told Strafford to raise an army and teach the Scottish who their king was.  He did.  With a small army.  And fought the second Bishops’ War.  Which ended worse for Charles than the first Bishops’ War.  He lost a chunk of northern England this time.  He needed an army.  And to get an army he needed money.  Which left him no choice.  He had to call Parliament again.

This Parliament, the Long Parliament, wasn’t any more helpful.  Instead of giving Charles money they gave him a list of demands.  Arrest Laud and Strafford.  And abolish ship money and those courts.  He signed the order to execute Strafford.  “Put not your trust in Princes,” indeed.  And sent Laud to the Tower of London.  To die of age.  Meanwhile, over in Ireland, the Catholics were rising up in Ulster.  Killing Protestants wherever they found them.  Charles needed money to raise an army and fast.  But Parliament was still reluctant.  As they feared he could turn that army on Parliament.  Pym and another Member of Parliament, Hampden, passed a bill transferring power from king to Parliament.  The Grand Remonstrance.  Which led to civil war.  War between Parliament and the king.

Civil wars are the cruelest of wars.  There were no standing armies then.  So both sides assembled volunteers from their communities.  So those killing each other often knew each other.  Old friends.  Neighbors.  And family.  They tore families and communities apart.  When one of your own kills your friends and family it tends to draw some violent and cruel acts of revenge.  This was the English Civil War.  Bloody.  And cruel.  Parliament lost some early battles.  Thanks to Charles’ cousin.  A professional cavalry officer.  Who knew a thing or two about winning battles.  He so impressed Oliver Cromwell that he raised a professional cavalry force like his to fight for Parliament.  He, too, was very successful.  Soon Parliament organized their whole army along the same lines.  It was the birth of a professional, standing army.  The New Model Army.  Under Cromwell.  And Sir Thomas Fairfax.  It was the New Model Army that ultimately defeated Charles. 

Their British Descendants built the New World with a Full Knowledge of their Past

Parliament won.  Thanks to the army.  But there was little unity in Parliament.  Or the army.  They had Charles.  But they couldn’t agree on what to do with him.  Charles wrote to the Scots and asked them to save their king.  The Scots came down and started fighting.  Leading to a second civil war.  That Cromwell won in short order.  And decided that they had to try Charles for treason.  They found him guilty.  Executed him.  Made England a republic.  And ended hereditary rule.  The Scots, meanwhile, where none too pleased that they executed their king.  So they crowned Charles’ son king.  So Cromwell came north and thumped the Scottish.  Parliament made Cromwell Lord Protector.  He wasn’t a king.  But he sure looked like he was.  Then he went to Ireland and thumped them for their past sins in Ulster. 

Cromwell would die in office.  In 1658.  And much like a monarchy, which England wasn’t, Cromwell’s son inherited his office of Lord Protector.  For a while, at least.  He wasn’t like the old man.  He was weak.  And couldn’t control the army.  Charles II, in exile in the Netherlands, offered the English a deal.  Let him be king and he would give them pardons and promises galore.  Even said he would pay the army.  Long story short, England got a king again.  One that would work with Parliament.  He never trusted them.  For they did kill his dad.  But he tolerated them.  And made a deal with French King Louis XIV.  The Sun King.  Who also believed in the Divine Right of Kings.  Charles II married a Catholic.  And his brother was Catholic.  So he had some mutual interests with the French king.  A reason not to attack Catholics.  Which the French were.  Helping to maintain the peace between the two super powers.  And brought some French funds into the Crown.  Which was a lot easier than begging Parliament for it.

Charles granted complete religious freedom for everyone.  Even Catholics.  In the Declaration of Indulgence.  But Parliament was still Protestant.  So if you wanted to serve in the army, serve in Parliament or go to college you had to be a member of the Protestant Church of England.  So the century ended as it started.  With a king.  Only a king with limited powers.  But it had something new.  Religious freedom.  At least, some religious freedom.  Within a century these things would take on even greater meaning on the other side of the Atlantic.  In the New World.  Where their British descendants would build the new with full knowledge of their past.

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Catholics, Protestants, Church of England, the Kirk, Presbyterians, Puritans, Divine Right of Kings and Parliament

Posted by PITHOCRATES - January 26th, 2012

Politics 101

English Catholics and Protestants were Fiercely Religious and willing to Kill or be Killed for their Faith

To understand the founding political structure of the United States you need to understand 17th century Britain.  The run up to the 17th century.  And the Protestant Reformation.  When Christianity split into Protestants and Catholics.  And their beliefs and practices.

Catholics are born with original sin.  Protestants aren’t.  All Catholics have a chance to go to Heaven.  God sorts out the Protestant’s going to Heaven before birth.  Doing good deeds can help Catholics make it to Heaven.  They won’t make any difference for Protestants.  Catholics burn away their sins in Purgatory.  Then comes Judgment Day.  Clean souls go to Heaven.  Unclean souls go to Hell.  Protestants go straight to Heaven or Hell when they die with no layover in Purgatory or judgment.  Catholics believe priests have special powers and the Pope is infallible.  Protestants don’t.  Catholics have saints, altar rails, candles, pictures, statues and stained glass windows.  Protestants don’t.  Catholics believe priests change the wine and bread at Communion into the actual body and blood of Christ.  Protestants think they just represent the body and blood of Christ.

These are some significant differences.  Especially in a time when everyone was fiercely religious.  And did everything in this life to prepare for the afterlife.  Even buy an indulgence from the Catholic Church to buy their way through Purgatory and into Heaven.  One of the pet peeves of Martin Luther that he included in his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517 Germany (which was then a collection of German princedoms).  This was serious stuff for the laypeople.  Who were willing to kill or be killed for their faith.  Which they did a lot of in Britain.

When Queen Elizabeth died King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England

King Henry the VIII hated Martin Luther.  Was a staunch defender of the faith.  But he wanted a divorce.  So he could marry a woman who would give him a son instead of more daughters.  But he needed the Pope to grant him this.  And the Pope refused.  Henry VIII also wanted to get the Catholic Church out of his affairs.  So he created an English church.  The Church of England.  With him as the guy in charge.  At first his church was going to be protestant.  Fully anti-Pope.  But he had Parliament pass the Act of Six Articles that made his Protestant Church very Catholic.  After Henry VIII died succeeding rulers pulled the Church back and forth between Protestantism and Catholicism.

Edward VI pulled it back to Protestantism.  Then that bread and wine issue came up again.  So they wrote a new prayer book that was deliberately vague.  Which caused the Catholics to riot.  When he died his sister, Queen Mary, took the throne.  An ardent Catholic.  Out went that new prayer book.  In came Catholicism.  And she arrested and burned Protestants at the stake.  Then she died.  And in came Queen Elizabeth.  A Protestant.  So the Church of England became Protestant again.  With a little Catholicism mixed in.  But it wasn’t Catholic enough.  So the Pope excommunicated her in 1570.  Angry, she oppressed the Catholics.  Yet the Protestants weren’t happy, either.  That little bit of Catholicism was just way too much for their liking.  Especially those hardcore Calvinist Protestants (the people we call Puritans even though at the time it was more a derogatory term).  Who Elizabeth then arrested and executed.

There was a Protestant uprising in Scotland and they, too, broke from the Catholic Church.  Without consulting their very important friend and ally.  Catholic France.  Which was home for an exiled Mary Queen of Scots.  A Catholic.  But she didn’t have the power to fight against the Protestants.  So she joined the fight against the Catholics.  But she had some Catholic baggage the Scottish couldn’t forgive and they forced her to abdicate anyway.  Her son, James VI, became king.  The Church of Scotland was Presbyterian (Calvinist Protestantism).  But Scotland had a lot of Catholics as well.  The Scottish Parliament made James the head of the Scottish Church.  The Kirk.  Which was a problem for the Presbyterians.  Because they said a king couldn’t be the head of their church.  When Elizabeth died James became King James I of England.  Changed the spelling of his name from ‘Stewart’ to ‘Stuart’.  And became the head of the Church of England.  Who the Presbyterians said was way too Catholic.

King James I believed in the Divine Right of Kings and Hated Parliament

When Mary Queen of Scots abdicated James VI was only a baby and raised by a Presbyterian handler.  His Regent.  Who ruled for James until he came of age.  Who must have been strict for James did not like the Scottish Presbyterians.  Who were very similar to English Puritans.  Elizabeth had oppressed Catholics and Puritans.  Who were now both looking for a little relief from King James I.  James met with some Puritans and Catholic bishops.  The bishops resented having to meet with Puritans.  And the Puritans wanted to do away with the bishops.  But James preferred Catholics over Puritans.  So he persecuted the Puritans.  Some of who embarked on a ship called the Mayflower and sailed to religious freedom in America.  Where they would allow anyone to practice any religion they chose.  As long as they chose Puritanism.

Now even though James preferred the Catholics there were a lot of Protestants in England.  And a strong anti-Catholic sentiment.  After all England’s two great enemies, Spain and France, were Catholic.  So he continued some Catholic oppression.  One Catholic took great offense to this and decided to do something about it.  Blow up Parliament.  And the king.  Robert Catesby planned the Gunpowder Plot.  But someone warned the government.  And they caught Guy Fawkes in the cellar surrounded by gun powder just before he could light the fuse.  They sentenced Fawkes and the other conspirators to death.

James was not a fan of Parliament, either.  It was different in Scotland.  There they did pretty much what he wanted.  But the English Parliament didn’t.  And this really bugged him.  For he believed in the Divine Right of Kings.  Parliament didn’t.  And they told him so.  Also, Parliament controlled the purse strings.  If he wanted money, and he did, he would have to work with Parliament.  Or find another means to pay for what he wanted.  He chose to find another means.  He forced people to loan him money.  And even sold a new hereditary title.  The baronet.  But it was never enough.  When he died the kingdom wasn’t as rich as Elizabeth left it for him.  Worse, he left a political mess for his successor.  King Charles I.  Who became the first king whose subjects put on trial.  And executed.  Following the English Civil War.  Which he, of course, lost.

The Radical New Ideas Sown in the 17th Century would have a Profound Impact on the American Founding Fathers

King Charles I ruled in 17th century Britain.  A momentous time of change.  In Britain.  The Old World.  And the New World.  A king would be tried for the first time by the people.  Religious scores would be settled far and wide.  Attempted, at least.  And new states would rise in the New World where they would live under the religion they chose.  Governed by representatives of the people.  Who governed at the consent of the people.  Radical new ideas.  That were sown in 17th century Britain.  And would have a profound impact on the American Founding Fathers.

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Kennedy Wrong on Kennedy, the Constitution, Catholicism and Abraham Lincoln

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 4th, 2010

There’s no Separation of Church and State in the Constitution

Sarah Palin wrote about JFK’s Houston speech in her new book America by Heart.  I haven’t read her book but, according to Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, she doesn’t get JFK or his speech. 

Ms. Kennedy says JFK took a lofty stand to separate church and state.  Palin said JFK dissed the Founding Fathers (see Sarah Palin is wrong about John F. Kennedy, religion and politics by Kathleen Kennedy Townsend posted 12/3/2010 on The Washington Post).

Palin’s argument seems to challenge a great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, stipulating that there be no religious test for public office.

I gotta side with Palin on this.  For I know history.  And a little about JFK.

A lot of people get this wrong.  Especially those on the Left.  They don’t know America’s history.  Or the Constitution.

Briefly, then, here is some American history.  The English founded British North America.  The Church of England is Protestant.  At the time of our founding, the English (and Protestants) hated Catholics.  Americans, then, had a deep-rooted hate of Catholics.  They left England because they felt the Church of England was getting too Catholic for their liking (pick up a history of the English Civil War for more on this).  So they came to America and founded new colonies.  Christian colonies.  Protestant, Christian colonies (except for Maryland which was a Catholic colony.  Go figure.).

All right, long story short, the American colonies were religious colonies.  They had established religions.  And they didn’t want any new fangled central government infringing on their established religions.  The so called wall between church and state in the Constitution has nothing to do about separating church from state.  It was all about keeping the federal government out of the states’ religious business. 

To get the states to ratify the Constitution, the new federal government had to agree not to interfere with the religious business of the individual states.  Hence the ‘shall not establish clause’.  Because the states already had established.  Religions.

Catholics didn’t Feel the Love for a Long Time in America

George Washington was perhaps the first to break down the walls between religions.  He had Protestants and Catholics fighting side by side in his army.  And he was trying to get Catholic French Canada to join the American cause.  So he forbade anti-Catholic demonstrations.  To help serve the army.  And his vision of the new nation.  But it took a long time for Protestant British Americans to warm up to Catholics.

When JFK ran for president, many Americans were still not ready for a Catholic president.  And this was a BIG problem for JFK.  People were worried that Rome would be calling the shots in America with a JFK presidency.  Ergo the Houston speech.

My uncle urged that religion be private, removed from politics, because he feared that making faith an arena for public contention would lead American politics into ill-disguised religious warfare, with candidates tempted to use faith to manipulate voters and demean their opponents.

Yes, he urged this.  Because he wanted to be elected president.  Not because he believed in it.  JFK was pragmatic.  He did/said what was necessary.  Whether he believed it or not. 

The Kennedys were Catholic in Name Only

You know, it might have been easier to stress that JFK wasn’t a ‘good’ Catholic.  He was an adulterer.  A good Catholic doesn’t use birth control or abortion.  They only have sex to make babies.  You know, according to Catholicism.  An adulterer, then, is obviously not having sex to make babies.  They’re having sex only for a bit of fun.  And that just ain’t good Catholicism.  According to Catholicism.

Apparently, Palin criticized Nancy Pelosi in her book.  Pelosi, pro-choice (i.e., pro-abortion), is a ‘Catholic’ who believes in something very un-Catholic.

For instance, she criticizes Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), a Democrat and a faithful Catholic, for “talking the (God) talk but not walking the walk.”

Who is Palin to say what God’s “walk” is? Who anointed her our grand inquisitor?

Palin criticized Teddy Kennedy, too.

Teddy Kennedy believed that his stands were at one with his faith. He did disagree with the Roman Catholic hierarchy at times. But as we have seen, the hierarchy’s positions can change, and in our church, we have an obligation to help bring about those changes.

The Catholics have the Pope.  And he is infallible.  So, unless the Pope reports that God changed his mind on the abortion issue, God hasn’t.  You can still be pro-choice if you want to be.  But not in the Catholic Church.

Abraham Lincoln Based his Morality in Religious Beliefs

Abraham Lincoln was a very religious man during the Civil War.  In fact, he thought that the war was God’s punishment for the sin of slavery.  He observed that both the North and the South prayed to the same God.  And that they both couldn’t be fighting on the side of God.

Lincoln’s original goal was to save the union with or without slavery.  That changed.  Because of his religious beliefs.  When once he said a house divided could not stand, he spoke of two options.  All slave.  Or all free.  His religious beliefs changed those two options.  He saw a nation all free.  Or he saw no nation.

Palin, for her part, argues that “morality itself cannot be sustained without the support of religious beliefs.” That statement amounts to a wholesale attack on countless Americans, and no study or reasonable argument I have seen or heard would support such a blanket condemnation. For a person who claims to admire Lincoln, Palin curiously ignores his injunction that Americans, even those engaged in a Civil War, show “malice toward none, with charity for all.”

Many historians say the Confederate ‘high tide’ of the Civil War was the Battle of Gettysburg.  (Many other historians, myself included, believe the Western Theater was where the war was decided.  But that’s another story for another time).   After three bloody days, General Meade telegraphed Lincoln that the Confederates were repulsed from Union territory.  Lincoln was infuriated (that Meade let a beaten army escape).  For it was all Union territory.

(In Meade’s defense, he was the last general commanding the Army of the Potomac.  General Grant found him one of his more capable general officers.  He put him in the company of General Tecumseh Sherman.  High praise indeed.)

The war would go on for another 2 years.  In all, some 600,000 Americans would die (total North and South).  The Union prevailed.  But the cost was devastating.  There were some who wanted revenge.  They wanted to punish the South.  Not Lincoln.  With the war over, he wanted to bring the South back into the Union as quickly as possible.   There were to be no reprisals.  No trials.  No executions.  He wanted to heal the nation’s wounds.  Put that bloody war behind them.

Thankfully, he imparted this to Generals Grant and Sherman before his assassination.  They followed his orders and granted very generous terms of surrender to Generals Lee and Johnston.  And they in turn helped keep the Civil War from degenerating into a protracted guerrilla war.

When Lincoln said

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan – to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.

he wasn’t saying ‘judge not lest ye be judged’, he was saying we suffered enough as a nation.  He was saying the war was over.  The healing was to begin.  And that God would help us find our way.

Distorting History to Protect Family

I can understand protecting family.  But when you’re protecting family against presumed misunderstandings of history, one shouldn’t distort history even further to protect your particular version of the facts.

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LESSONS LEARNED #14: “Christianity does not beget antidisestablishmentarianism.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 20th, 2010

THE FOUNDING FATHERS were literate.  As many in British America were.  They knew their history.  Europe’s history.  And Antiquity’s.  They read books.  They knew that a Macedonian conquered a weak confederation of Greek city-states.  That Julius Caesar marched into Rome at the head of a professional Roman Army and put an end to the Roman Republic.  That large standing armies and a bloated bureaucracy bankrupted the Roman Empire and led to her demise.  That differences in religious opinion plunged nations into war.  And they were very conscious that history repeats itself.

They studied history and applied the lessons they learned to the founding of a new nation.  And they were blessed with a blank canvas.  There were not centuries of past wrongs to right.  No grudges.  No bad blood.  They had an ocean between them and that past.  Europe may have still been fighting each other, but it was just too costly to extend that fight across an ocean.  At least, not in any large scale action.  And they had vast tracts of land to the west waiting for them to settle.  Growing space.  True, there were indigenous people on some of that land, but there was so much more land than people (even today vast tracts are uninhabited).  Not like in Europe.  There, if a nation left the confines of her borders, it bumped into another.  And, typically, professional armies did the bumping.

So there they were, the Founding Fathers, on a new continent ripe with possibilities.  They had land, resources, knowledge and timing.  It was as if God said that now was the time for a great new civilization to begin.  Or so many felt then. 

THE FATHER OF Christianity was a Jew.  A Rabbi.  Born and raised in a part of the Roman Empire that was a royal pain in the ass to them.  The Jews just did not readily submit to Roman rule.  And the Emperor was growing tired of this thorn in his side. 

The hapless procurator for this troublesome land was Pontius Pilate.  He may have been cruel.  He may have been just (in the context of the times).  He may have tried his best to keep the peace.  But he was certain to fail.  Don’t rule hard enough and order breaks down and Rome is unhappy.  Push too hard and it may cause open rebellion.  Again.  And Rome is unhappy.  Damned if he does.  Damned if he doesn’t.

Long story short, the Romans crucify Jesus Christ.  And a religion is born. 

THE CHRISTIANS WOULD became as big a pain in the ass as the Jews were for the Roman Empire.  Christ’s apostles spread His message and Christian pockets developed in the Empire.  And the Romans persecuted them.  Until one day.

The Roman Empire was in civil war.  Constantine approached the River Tiber.  Across lay Rome and Maxentius.  They would meet in battle in the morning.  Before that battle, though, Constantine had a vision.  He saw a Christian symbol.  The Christian god appeared to him.  He was to advance his armies behind this symbol.  Or so the story goes.  Anyway, Constantine did win the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.  He proclaimed that the Christian god made that victory possible.  And he would subsequently convert to Christianity.

The Roman Empire would give up its pagan past and become Christian.  Constantine would build a great Christian city and name it after himself.  Constantinople (modern day Istanbul).  Christianity would spread throughout the civilized world. Even to the place where he became emperor.  Britain.  A Christian Monk would take the religion into the hostile lands north of Hadrian’s Wall (Scotland).   There he founded a monastery called Candida Casa.  His successor at the monastery, Caranoc, probably introduced Christianity to Ireland.  St. Patrick’s missionary work took over from Caranoc.

ONE OF THE surviving institutions of the Roman Empire was the Catholic Church.  With the structure and order of Roman rule gone, it was the one uniting force that transcended the diverse remnants of the empire.  King Clovis converted to Catholicism and united the Gallic people.  Charlemagne built on this consolidation and created the French and German monarchies, setting the stage for modern, Christian Europe.

The Catholic Church was the bedrock of life in the Middle Ages.  It soothed and comforted.  It gave hope and meaning during difficult times.  Civilization became civilized when Christianized.  People lived by the Golden Rule.  They helped each other.  Christian kings ruled more compassionately, for the afterlife was important to both ruler and ruled.  A king may answer to no man, but a Christian king answered to God. And in Europe, that was the Pope, who ruled spiritually in God’s temporal world.

The Pope may be the last word on things spiritual, but he was still a man.  And like all men, power tends to corrupt.  And it would be a German priest to point this out in a grand way.

IT WAS THE 16th century and the Renaissance was under way.  Everyone was catching the fever.  Even the Pope.  Pope Leo X was renovating his St. Peter digs in the new style.  Paid for, in part, by the selling of indulgences.  You say you’ve sinned?  But you still want to go to heaven?  No problem.  I can help you.  I can forgive you.  For a nominal fee.  And really, now, can you put a price on personal salvation?  I mean, sure, you can risk eternal damnation.  But why take the chance?  Buy an indulgence today.

Or so went some kind of sales pitch.  Which caused a problem for a German priest.  Martin Luther.  He didn’t believe you could buy your way into heaven.  So he said it.  The king wasn’t wearing any clothes.  I mean, the Pope was wrong.  He nailed up his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517 and the Protestant movement was afoot.  Caused a reverberation or two.  Plunged Europe into war.  Catholic versus protestant.  Reformer versus counter-reformer.

Luther translated the Latin Bible into the common German spoken in his country.  Over in England, they were translating the Bible, too.  And speaking of England.

HENRY VIII WANTED a son.  As kings are wont to do.  But he wasn’t having any luck.  He needed a new wife.  So he wanted a divorce.  Couldn’t get one.  So he said goodbye to Rome and opened the Church of England.  He got his divorce.   And a new baby.  Another girl.

The story of England’s break with Rome is a bit more complicated than this.  Henry VIII was a Catholic.  He even persecuted Protestants.  But his third wife was a German princess married for political reasons.  And his new Church leaned Protestant.  He did a lot of things that Luther said to do.  And he hated Luther.  His subjects were even reading an English translation of the Bible.  But then the politics changed and he divorced Anne of Cleves.  And the Church swung back to Catholicism.

When Henry VIII died, Edward VI assumed the throne.  And the Church swung back to Protestant.  When he died, his sister took the throne.  His Catholic sister.  Queen Mary.  And the Church swung back to Catholicism.  People didn’t mind.  Hey, they were Catholics far longer than they were Protestants.  Then she married the Catholic King of Spain.  Started burning Protestants at the stake.  Went to war with France in support of Spain.  And lost English land on the continent in the process.  The people didn’t take kindly to this.

Then came Queen Elizabeth.  She swung the Church back to Protestant.  And the Pope thanked her for that by excommunicating her.  Pope Paul V sent missionaries into England to agitate and return England to Catholicism.  Elizabeth countered by making life very difficult for Catholics.  But the Catholics weren’t the only ones unhappy with Elizabeth.

The Puritans were Calvinists who were extremely anti-Catholic.  Yes, she swung the Church of England back to Protestantism, but it still had some Catholic flourishes (bishops, priest vestments, candles, some saints’ days and feasts, transubstantiation, etc.).  As Supreme Governor of the Church, these Puritans were challenging her authority.  So she arrested and executed them.

YOU GET THE picture.  The tug of war between Catholicism and Protestantism was a long and bloody one.  And it involved outsiders.  Catholic France was stirring up trouble in Protestant Scotland.  Mary, Queen of Scots, cousin of Elizabeth, even plotted against her cousin to take her throne (and make Scotland and England Catholic).  She failed and Elizabeth chopped her head off.

Meanwhile, Catholic Spain was stirring up trouble in Ireland.  She hated England for their break from Rome.  Wanted to bring her back to the Catholic fold.  The Catholic Irish did not like Protestant English rule. There was rebellion in Ulster.  Spain helped the rebels.  The English suppressed the rebellion.  To dilute this Catholic hotspot from causing further disturbances, England settled Ulster with Protestants.

Spain also wanted vengeance for the looting of Spanish ships (filled with gold and silver looted from the New World) by English pirates.  Spain assembled a great fleet (The Great Armada) for the invasion of England.  It was defeated.  England escaped Catholic Spanish subjugation.

SO THERE YOU have it.  Kindling for civil war in England as well as world war across the continent and in the New World as the Old World fought to colonize it.  And that history would be a bloody one.  A lot of wrongs to right.  A lot of bad blood.  A lot of grudges.  And the Founding Fathers wanted no part of it.

When the British defeated the French on the Plains of Abraham outside Quebec City, Catholic French Canada became British.  To appease the local French inhabitants, though, the British passed the Quebec Act.  And let them keep their French heritage.  Je me souviens (I remember, motto of both Quebec Province and the Royal 22e Régiment).  One part of the Quebec Act expanded Canadian territory into lands that the Americans were planning to settle.  Another part guaranteed the free practice of Catholicism.  Right in British America’s backyard.  Which was a Protestant backyard.  This infuriated the Americans.  The Protestant-Catholic simmering hatred did make it to the New World.  This was one of the last of British insults that eventually led to the Revolutionary War.

But that was the peak of anti-catholic rhetoric in America.  After the war, the states would eventually disestablish their churches.  Catholic and Protestant would live peacefully together.  Along with Baptists.  And Jews.  And any other denomination.  And religion flourished.  Especially Christianity.  By not establishing Protestantism or Catholicism, both flourished.  The new nation blossomed.  And America became that city on a hill.  If you go by immigration records.  And one day America would even have a Catholic president.  JFK.

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FUNDAMENTAL TRUTH #14: “Christianity does not beget antidisestablishmentarianism.” -Old Pithy

Posted by PITHOCRATES - May 18th, 2010

DID THE FOUNDING Fathers found America as a Christian nation?  No.  Did they found a secular nation?  Not exactly.  Did they found a federal nation?  Yes.

Federalism.  What does it mean?  It means the new federal government would have LIMITED powers.  The new national government would do national things.  Trade.  National defense.  Treat with other nations.  In other words, those things that required a single national voice.  The French didn’t want to treat with the individual states.  They didn’t want one set of trade agreements for Virginia and another for North Carolina.  Neither did Great Britain.  Or the other European powers.  No.  If the United States of America wanted to be an independent nation, then they had to act as a single, unified nation.  So they did.

The other things, the non-national things, they left to the states.  And one of these things was religion.  For when it came to religion, the new federal government did not interfere in the states’ religious business.  Ergo the First Amendment.  The ‘wall’ between church and state was to separate the new federal government from the states’ religious establishments.  If a state discriminated against all but their established religion, that was fine and dandy for it was a moot point as far as the federal government was concerned.  It just wasn’t their business.

Now, a truly secular government would intervene in such a case.  The federal government would later, but at the founding, one of the preconditions for ratification of the Constitution was that it wouldn’t.  And it didn’t.  Interfere with a state’s religion.

WE ALL KNOW the story of the Pilgrims, the Puritans, coming to the New World from England to escape religious persecution.  Probably not as familiar with the backstory.  The English Civil War.  Duke of Buckingham.  King and Parliament.  Queen and Parliament.  The French.  The Spanish.  The Pope.  The Kirk.  The Ulster Uprising.  Oliver Cromwell.  And, of course, William Laud.

Here’s the short version of what happened.  And some back-story to the back-story.  The Protestant Reformation split the Catholic Church.  Much fighting ensued.  This split nations into essentially Catholic and Protestant camps (which broke down into further divisions).  England was Protestant.  Scotland was Presbyterian (a branch of Protestantism).  Ireland was Catholic with a Protestant enclave in Ulster.

Mix them together, add a not great English king, who married a French Catholic, throw in a revised Church of England prayer book, bring back some Catholicism to the Protestant Church of England, dissolve Parliament, recall Parliament, try to dissolve it again and, well, you get civil war.  Parliament wins the war.  They behead the king. 

The English Civil War is a little more complicated than this.  But for our purposes, it’s the religious component that’s important. Everyone persecuted someone at one time.  One group, the Puritans, were Protestants.  Hardcore Protestants.  Calvinists.  They were about as anti-Catholic as you could get.  Didn’t like any of the Catholics’ fancy vestments, icons, statues, pictures, altar rails, candlesticks, stained glass windows, etc.  That church was corrupt.  They had lost their way. 

They didn’t believe in original sin or that you can buy your way into heaven.  God chose your fate before you were born.  If you were one of the elect, you passed your days in long church services and you read the Bible.  If you didn’t do these things it was proof you weren’t one of the elect.  And were damned.  No matter what you did during your life.  Cure cancer, it didn’t matter.  You were damned.

They didn’t like Catholics and Catholics didn’t like them.  And, as it turned out, the Protestant powers that be didn’t much care for them either.  In England or on the Continent.  They just couldn’t be un-Catholic enough to please the Puritans.  Much bitterness ensued.  Many left the Old World and settled in the New World.  Like the Israelites fleeing Egypt, these Puritans came to the New World to establish that city on a hill of Mathew 5:14 fame (from the Sermon on the Mount.  Given by Jesus Christ.  Just in case you’re unfamiliar with it).

THEY CAME FROM England, Scotland, the Netherlands, France and settled in New England, New York and the far side of the Appalachians.  A hard working people.  They provided for themselves.  Went to church.  Read the Bible.  All work and no play.  At least, some would say. 

They established the state-supported Congregational Church in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  John Adams was born and raised a Calvinist and attended this state-supported church.  When writing the new state’s constitution, the state support of the church was a contentious issue.  Most felt that religion was an indispensible part of life.  Others agreed but feared a religious majority would oppress a religious minority.  The process would take 3 years to resolve.

Being in the heart of the rebellion, Abigail Adams, Founding Mother, and perhaps America’s first feminist, experienced much of the darker side of the struggle for independence.  Soulmate of John Adams in every sense of the word, she was as religious as he.  As the war dragged on with no end in sight, she feared it was God’s punishment for the sins of American slavery.

IN VIRGINIA, THE established church was the Anglican Church (i.e., the Church of England).  As in Massachusetts, there was debate about an established majority religion oppressing a minority religion.  For good reason.  It did.  Right in James Madison’s backyard.  Baptists were harassed.  And imprisoned.  You needed a license to preach.  Virginia and the established church made getting that license very difficult.  If you were a Baptist.

America’s least religious Founding Father, Thomas Jefferson, wrote the Virginian Statute for Religious Freedom.  The Virginian General Assembly passed it in 1786, two years before the states ratified the U.S. Constitution.  To help get the Virginian Baptists on board for ratification, James Madison, the father of the Constitution, promised to add a Bill of Rights after ratification that would add similar rights and protection at the federal level that were enacted at the state level.

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN MAY have been a Deist.  He was, after all, the embodiment of the Enlightenment.  Like Thomas Jefferson.  They embraced reason over dogma.  But Franklin believed religious faith was fundamental to civilized society.  His personal beliefs boiled down to simply doing good deeds.  Help others.  And sometimes you need to remind some people to help others.  And that’s why he liked religion.  He spent much of his life helping his community (serving in the state militia, participating in the volunteer fire department, etc.).  At an impasse at the Constitutional Convention, it was he who suggested they should pray.

GEORGE WASHINGTON MAY not have taken communion, but he added chaplains to his army units during the American Revolution.  He believed the American cause was a divine one.  He feared a lack of faith may determine battlefield outcomes.  He led an integrated army of Protestants and Catholics.  And Jews.  And blacks.  And others.  He forbade anti-Catholic demonstrations which were very common in the former British colonies.  When an Army went to Canada to attack the British, they were to respect the Catholic French Canadians and invite them to join their cause.  He would even attend Catholic service on occasion.  Like the army, the nation he would lead would be a melting pot.  Tolerance and respect was the mantra.  For all Americans.

SO, DID THE Founding Fathers found a Christian nation?  No.  Religious establishment was simply beyond the responsibility of the new federal government.  Did Christians settle the original colonies?  Yes.  And they established Christian churches.  And the states were worried that a new federal government would interfere with their religious business.  Some wanted additional safeguards written in.  So James Madison added the Bill of Rights after ratification.  The First Amendment placed a wall between the federal government and the States’ religious establishments.

In time, the states extended the tolerance and respect of religious diversity prevalent in Washington’s army to their states.  They disestablished their established churches.  And, to their relief, religion flourished.  Especially the different branches of Christianity.  Yes, America became even more Christian, but it tolerated and respected other religions.  New York even had a Jewish Temple 3 years after the British surrender at Yorktown.  And even the Catholics were welcomed in the new nation.

DISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM INCREASED THE spread of Christianity.  Like the economy, the freer it was the more it flourished.  And with the great number of Christian religions that have since spread across the nation, it is unlikely that overt acts of Christianity would result in the establishment of one of these.  Or the reestablishment of the Church of England. 

So go ahead and display your Christmas Crèche or the Ten Commandments.  Chances are good that it won’t beget antidisestablishmentarianism.

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